Scanning Technology Comes of Age
Developers refine intraoral and desktop capabilities
Michael Scherer, DMD, MS, FACP
It is an exciting time to be in the dental profession. There have been some huge improvements in the world of optical scanning, and many new intraoral and desktop scanners have come onto the market. But how do you keep up with all these new iterations and innovations to make the critical decision on what system(s) will work best for your business? The general conclusion is that optical scanning is well developed, so we are now seeing systems with merely incremental or evolutionary improvements rather than exhibiting revolutionary and disruptive changes in the technology. What distinguishes one system from another? Frankly, it comes down to many things, but in speaking with many clinicians and technicians, the following are the big three, in order of importance: price and value; ease and simplicity of operation; and scanner and software integration and features. Many dental professionals get caught up with the price point alone, buying the cheapest option available. But if that scanner is cumbersome, cannot be integrated well into the laboratory's current system, or does not have certain critical features, it will sit in a corner or cabinet and remain unused. A scanner also needs to be simple and easy to use. If it is difficult to operate because it is heavy or if the software is not intuitive, again it will be relegated to sit on a shelf. The last consideration: Do the features of the scanner enhance client excitement, increase productivity, and/or help build business? Many of these considerations seem logical and simple: the value received is even more important than the price tag.
The newest innovations entering the market as part of the digital dentistry movement are those that prioritize the patient and focus on providing a positive experience. Several companies have introduced new scanners to the market that aim to enhance the patient experience with apps, patient monitoring, and instant smile line analysis. These improvements give the patients the ability to see immediately what their new smiles may look like after cosmetic dentistry. While this technology has been available for a long time, the traditional smile mock-up services required a second visit and needed several days for the analysis to be done. This new trend of digital mock-ups means that before-and-after images are available instantly or via augmented reality (AR), fueled and powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and AR. AI/AR-infused technology also permits the clinician to show what a patient would look like with different shades of denture tooth molds, without having to pick up any wax. Lastly, several of the newly released scanners highlight the integration of the team approach by following patients over time. Patient monitoring apps allow the dentists to assess and observe caries in patients during initial and recall visits. Furthermore, scans can be made of a patient over the course of years and be easily superimposed on each other to monitor a patient's grinding habits and tooth wear rates.
New desktop optical scanners from several companies have demonstrated increased speed and enhanced resolution. As these advancements develop, the trend toward increasing simplicity and decreasing complexity will continue. Similar to their clinical counterparts, software providers for desktop scanners have truly enhanced their user interfaces, which also include smile design features and diagnostic mock-up capabilities. The level of communication has never been better. Through these technologies, the entire restorative team can engage in real-time collaboration and design. Today's desktop scanners are not only super fast and precise, they can do so much more than their predecessors. Most manufacturers now offer truly seamless integration with their clinical elements—which include intraoral scanners, photo wands, and CBCT scanners—in order to capture a holistic picture of the patient and enable treatment protocols for the best results. Furthermore, we are seeing more and more desktop scanners adopt open architecture, which opens the door to a variety of scanning workflows as well as providing the ability to scan an articulator in the closed position—even a semi-adjustable articulator.
The future of dentistry is bright as scanning technology manufacturers bring new and exciting technological features to clinical and laboratory practices. Whether through developments like intuitive AI/AR scanning technology, infrared caries detection scanning, or any number of other advances, there are always more on the horizon.
About the Author
Michael Scherer, DMD, MS, FACP
Assistant Clinical Professor, Loma Linda University
Clinical Instructor, University of Nevada – Las Vegas